In January of 2019, a national health emergency was declared by Washington related to a measles outbreak. The disease was thought to be eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, due to five decades of routine vaccinations, but as of this date nearly 400 cases have been reported in fifteen states. All of those states allow for refusal to get vaccinated based on personal or religious beliefs.
This situation brought Mister Boomer back to the boomer years, when vaccines were a routine step for school-aged children. When it comes to vaccinations for boomers, our parents were whole-heartedly in favor of having their children vaccinated: They lived through decades of horrible diseases, and, by the time World War II arrived, the prevailing thought of the country was to trust science and get on with finding cures. Mister Boomer feels this was particularly prompted by the scourge of polio that gripped the world into the 1940s. Traced back as far as Ancient Egypt, polio was a crippling disease that inflicted tens of thousands of children each year. Some surmise the Tiny Tim character had polio in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. For the parents of boomers, though, it was the fact that their president — Franklin Delano Roosevelt — had what was believed to be polio in his late teen years. He covered up his increasing inability to walk by holding himself up at sturdy podiums and the Secret Service was diligent in seeing that there were no photos taken of him in a wheelchair.
In 1937, Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later known as the March of Dimes), specifically with the intent of producing a vaccine for polio. The parents of boomers recall that schoolchildren of their generation sent dimes to the White House, doing their part in the search for a cure. Perhaps that is the reason that Roosevelt’s portrait is on the ten cent coin? Boomers will also recall how, each March, teachers were each given a cardboard sign that had slots for dimes in them. The teacher would remind children to ask for a dime from their parents. One by one, children could approach the sign on the teacher’s desk and slide their dime into the cardboard slot.
Roosevelt didn’t live long enough to see the development of a vaccine for polio. There was an epidemic outbreak of polio in the U.S. in 1952. Parents were keeping their children from public places such as municipal swimming pools, as a near-national hysteria added pressure to quickly release a vaccine. Dr. Jonas Salk was given a patent for his vaccination in 1955. It quickly became standard for all boomer children to get the vaccine. Today many scientists are suggesting that FDR did not have polio at all, but probably Guillain-Barre Syndrome. No matter which, by the mid-50s, boomer children were being vaccinated against smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio. It is more than likely the smallpox vaccination that gives boomers of a certain age that circular scar on their arm. The last case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977. The U.S. stopped routine smallpox vaccinations in 1972, and the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980. No cases of polio have been reported in the U.S. since 1979.
The 1960s saw more advances in vaccinations for boomers. Vaccines for measles were being tested as far back as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1963 when an effective version was released to the public. Vaccinations for mumps followed in 1967, and rubella in 1969. The three were combined into one vaccine in 1970.
Mister Boomer’s family was inoculated with all the vaccinations that were available at the time, but Mister Boomer and his brother had both measles and chicken pox in the early 1960s before the measles vaccine was released. The brothers spent a week suffering the relentless itching and light sensitivity that comes with it, prompting them to be quarantined to their bedroom, with drapes drawn, while all the neighborhood kids were out enjoying the summer sun. Fortunately, both brothers recovered without any ill effects; on average there were 450 deaths due to measles reported each year in the decade 1953 to 1963, the year when the vaccine was first given.
How about you, boomers? Do you have a vaccination scar on your arm? Did your family talk about vaccinations?